Community & Education HKFP Lens

HKFP Lens: Hong Kong’s homeless capture their lives with disposable cameras

Our City My Story is a community project that gives disposable cameras to some of the thousands of individuals experiencing homelessness in Hong Kong. The photos they captured have been shared with HKFP.
Michael has been staying under the footbridge near the MTR station for over 10 years. He’s seen many changes happen in the North Point and Fortress Hill areas over the years, especially with the construction of new buildings and a number of individuals affected by homelessness coming and going.

“They’re building a new commercial block in that empty space across the footbridge. Those bags on the chair belong to another man who has now moved into public housing somewhere, so he’s just left all his belongings that aren’t valuable there. I see him come by sometimes.”

Whilst there are a lot of changes happening around him, Michael has still captured the things that have remained unchanged over the years, like the wet market stalls and the letterboxes in front of the old nearby building.

Born and raised in Singapore until he left as a young teenager to move to Hong Kong in 1978, Lam’s most memorable job was working as a travel agent for 10 years. When he fondly looks back on his experiences living in Hong Kong during the glory decades of the seventies and eighties, he still remembers moments very clearly.

“I used to live and work in Sheung Wan, so sometimes I’ll catch the ding ding [tram] from Admiralty to see what the area looks like today and how much has changed. The photo of the park was taken on a Sunday morning at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park, which surprisingly wasn’t crowded at all that day so it was very peaceful.”

Despite his current situation of experiencing homelessness, he’s very motivated and diligent in his daily routine, making sure he looks after himself and stays informed of what’s happening in the community by collecting English newspapers to read. His warm, friendly personality and sense of humour instantly light up the room.

“Every night at around 7pm, I walk to the small garden near the Immigration Tower to sleep. I usually wake up at 3am to take a shower as that’s when it’s the least crowded. Then I’ll walk to the footbridge again and spend my day there reading. Usually, I go to the nearby Cafe de Coral for breakfast. I’m there so often that the ladies at the counter recognise me and we always have a chat.”

Julia has lived in a tunnel on the east of Hong Kong island for more than four months. She came to the city from Bangkok, Thailand, on the suggestion of a friend, who knew a man who said he was looking for a wife. She met the man a number of times. She met his mother and his brother. However, the marriage never eventuated. Julia holds no ill feelings towards the friend who made the introduction and they still maintain contact.

Julia maintains a small but very well organized space inside the tunnel. Compared to those around her, she has a considerable number of possessions, which are contained within makeshift three-feet high walls. Despite the order of her space and the friendship of some other tunnel residents, she doesn’t feel safe. People are often fighting at night – and she is one of only a few women that this project has observed occupying a regular, established sleeping area.

When talking to Julia about her life in Hong Kong it is clear that the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple is a central point. The temple provides free meals on a nightly basis, attracting a regular community of people from around the world. Julia has met people at the temple from Argentina, India, Nepal, Philippines and many other countries.

One of her best friends at the temple is Armin. He took the photos of Julia that appear in this series. She looks forward to her time with him each day.

Having to earn a living to support his children and making sure they finish school, Sam works 6 days a week on a construction project. His daily commute includes the MTR, a long bus ride and walking to the site, which is particularly tough during the summer.

“These photos were taken from the bus on my way to work one day,” he says.

But Sam’s hard work ethic is paying off. “I am very proud of my son, who has gotten into a culinary school in New Zealand. I really hope to visit him next year during his semester with my eldest daughter. I visited Melbourne a number of years ago as I participated in the Homeless World Cup program, so I look forward to visiting a new country.”

Learn more about the Our city my story project here.

Note: Names in this article have been changed to protect privacy. 

HKFP Lens: Hong Kong's homeless capture their lives with disposable cameras